Saturday, May 11, 2013

Seven days that divide the world

The latest issue of Science and Christian Belief has a helpful review of the recent book
Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science by John Lennox.

Here is the full review by Davis Young, Emeritus Professor of Geology at Calvin College:
The content of this short book is summed up rather well by its somewhat peevish title. Here John Lennox concentrates
on the first chapter of Genesis, having already published a broader take on science and religion in God's Undertaker (2007). His style is clear and accessible, with a welcome touch of humour, but it is also argumentative. This latter aspect comes out especially in the five Appendices, which take up more than a third of the book.
The first two chapters look back briefly at the old controversy over the earth's movement round the sun. Lennox explains how Old Testament verses that refer to a fixed earth were seen as speaking metaphorically once it became certain that the earth really does move. This account of the Galileo affair serves as a cautionary tale, from which he recommends humility in interpreting both Scripture and science. He also sets out his own position as a scientist who believes Scripture to be the Word of God (28). 
From this basis, Lennox moves on to consider what Genesis 1 has to say about the age of the earth. He acknowledges three main ways of interpreting the days of creation: as 24 hour days, as long periods of time or as a literary framework. He then offers a fourth way of his own, where the six days encompass a sequence of creation acts, each of which involved at least one creative fiat introduced by the phrase "And God said" (55). Lennox suggests that these days occurred at intervals over the long history of the universe. However, as he explains in Appendix E, he believes the phrase‚ "And God said" means "direct activity of the word of God" (186) and excludes "unguided natural processes" (172). He therefore rejects any idea of "theistic evolution" and this makes him, in current terminology, an old-earth creationist. 
This position becomes even clearer in the next chapter where he argues that human beings are a special creation and not a product of evolution. He insists that, according to Genesis, you cannot cross "the gulf between animals and human beings by unguided natural processes... Without God speaking there is an unbridgeable discontinuity" (70). Lennox offers us only two alternatives on human origins: either "a supernatural intervention" (74) or "random permutations of matter without any ultimate significance" (85). He does not include the possibility that, in a divinely sustained world, natural processes are due to the ongoing creative activity of God. The latter concept has long been part of creation theology, an area of study that is not really included in this book. 
In a final chapter, Lennox considers the broader world-view of Genesis 1. There is no discussion here of the cultural and literary forms in which the message was conveyed to ancient Israel. Instead, everything is quickly linked to modern science and to the author's battle with atheism. Then the Appendices take over and these include a dispute with Old Testament scholarship that poses a threat to his position. The last one contains his arguments against theistic evolution.
Overall Lennox does seem to be driven by a desire for doctrinal certainty. His insistence on an unusual interpretation of Genesis is linked to his particular doctrine of creation as divine intervention at certain points in world history. This leads him to reject any mainstream science, such as evolutionary biology, that would throw light on these points. The irony of this is that he is treating biology rather as the church treated astronomy in the Galileo affair.

No comments:

Post a Comment